By Paul Goodman
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By Tim Montgomerie
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THE SALISBURY CITY SKYSCAPE
What are your favourite urban views?
"Do you go for formal perfection, like Bath’s Royal Crescent or London’s Mall? Or the chaotic, bright lights and bustle of Broad Street in Birmingham or Liverpool’s Concert Square after dark? Did Canaletto get it right with his soft-focus takes on London’s skyline and the Thames, or did the Kinks capture the gritty bustle of Waterloo Sunset perfectly instead? Even Wordsworth, when he wasn’t mooning over clumps of daffodils, thought the view from Westminster Bridge was pretty special."
John Penrose MP wants to know and he wants to know if you want those views protected. Writing for today's Telegraph the former Culture minister argues that great views should be protected from destruction in the same way that great buildings are protected. This, he notes, already happens on a piecemeal basis with local authority planning controls and the creation of conservation zones. This current system, however, can be very bureaucratic and not very joined-up. Mr Penrose argues that it inhibits development of derelict urban areas and if developers can't work easily with brownfield sites then they set their eyes on greenfield locations in Britain's countryside.
By Jonathan Isaby
He noted that "out of the historic houses open to the public, those that are privately owned, managed, and funded outnumber the total of those belonging to the National Trust and English Heritage put together", relating his comments in particular to Broughton Castle, owned by Lord and Lady Saye and Sele in his Banbury constituency.
He argued that heritage maintenance funds need to be made more workable, before making the case for reducing the regulatory burden and red tape on historic houses:
"Five areas have been highlighted in which action would be relatively simple to take at little or no cost to the Exchequer, and which would bring worthwhile benefits not only to those promoting historic houses and tourism, but to the wider economy. The first is licensing and the implementation of the 2006 Elton review recommendations, which called for changes to the fee structures for larger events; permission for historic rural venues to host occasional events; and for a de minimis approach when the licence or activity is small in relation to the overall activity taking place.
"The second area is tourism signage and the hope that it would be possible to develop a policy to encourage the use of brown signs not just to manage traffic, but to promote tourism. Even under the current policy, there are inconsistencies in Highways Agency and local authority interpretation, resulting in some historic houses not being allowed tourism signs, or even losing their signs.
"Thirdly, on planning, we need to promote a more flexible approach to the way in which planning applications for temporary structures, such as marquees, are handled. Marquees house special events that can significantly enrich the experience of visitors to historic places without compromising the historic value of the site. Indeed, the Palace of Westminster has had temporary permanent marquees on the Terrace for as long as I can recall, but they are, by definition, temporary and reversible. For some reason, some local authorities treat marquees as though they are permanent developments.
"The fourth area is the application of fire safety rules to listed bed and breakfast accommodation. While recognising that fire safety is, of course, paramount, one needs to ensure that the application of fire safety regulations recognises the peculiarities and realities of historic buildings. Finally, we need to rethink the application of health and safety regulations in circumstances involving natural hazards, because, at present, it is undermining voluntary efforts to open the countryside for public access.
"Historic houses are not just stone and mortar. They should be living places. The soul of a historic house is the family who live there. Those families are the most committed, responsible and, dare I say, cheapest curators of these parts of our national heritage. May I therefore urge the Minister to note that modest changes to heritage maintenance funds can bring long-term benefits at a relatively tiny annual cost to the Exchequer? Moreover, will his Department please do what it can to tackle excessive regulation?"
In replying to the debate, tourism minister John Penrose applauded the work of the Historic Houses Association and praised the "incredibly careful and committed stewards of the properties" who look after them "for themselves and for future generations of not only their own family but the communities in which their houses are located and the wider public in general."
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